The S.H.I.E.L.D medical unit was a place that he was more than familiar with, considering all his minor incidents on missions, but the Serious Injuries Unit was somewhere he hadn't been for a long time. He'd been here once when he took a shot to the chest that punctured his lung and they'd wanted to make sure that he kept breathing overnight. He was so full of medication that night that he didn't really remember being there. He hated the idea of the place, that there was a specific set of connected rooms that you went when the usual medics weren't able to patch you up properly, that S.H.I.E.L.D had already prepared for the fact that they weren't invicible.
He'd been hovering outside for hours now, so long that he'd lost count and he'd certainly lost sleep. There weren't any chairs outside the area, it was hardly a place for visiting relatives and besides, the team had no one but each other, so he had been curled around himself on the ground the entire time, ignoring the cold feel of the metal beneath his mission attire. When he'd stood he'd been trembling, though he wasn't sure if that was from relief, from lack of food and drink through the most part of the day, or the fear of what he would discover in that room.
Now, he stood outside of that room, the Serious Injuries Unit, with a medic standing before him and Coulson speaking to the white coat in question. He was confused for a moment when they'd stopped walking, but the familiar, increased thumping within his chest bought him back into the moment. The medic stepped back and indicated to the closed door for him to open it himself, but he hesitated.
"Barton," Coulson said simply.
He shook himself but did nothing but stare at the door, so it was Coulson himself who opened it to prompt him inside. He stepped up to the doorway, but he didn't make it inside the door.
The room was small, considering how much machinery it was filled with. There was no many monitors and tubes in the unit that it should have frightened him, but it wasn't the daunting medical equipment that instilled the familiar fear inside of him. Instead, it was the figure in the bed that made his heart pound.
"Oh, Tasha," he whispered breathlessly.
She was lying still, her arms draped over the blankets that covered the bandages from the surgery she'd recently returned from. She was deathly pale despite a blood transfusion he'd been informed she had - their blood types hadn't matched and in a moment of desperation where someone had needed to help, Agent Hill had stepped up with a matching blood type. Her red curls were spread around the thin pillow beneath her, the only bright colour in the room, but they'd covered her hair during the surgery and now the curls were duller and no longer as springy as he was used to. It was unnerving to see the tubes coming out of her arms, some draining fluid and others inserting it. There was an oxygen mask covering her nose and mouth making sure that she didn't stop breathing during her coma.
"Don't be alarmed," the medic told him. "It's mostly for precaution. The surgery went well."
But the appearance of 'precaution' didn't give him the impression that she was as okay as they kept telling him she was. Precaution was in place because there was a risk, and the risk was what alarmed him. From what experience told him, he knew that people only told others not to be alarmed when there was a valid reason to be alarmed in the first place. Even though they assured him that she was going to survive and that she'd be fine once she woke up, he realised that there was still a risk until she was awake - and he wasn't even entirely sure he wanted to know what the risks were - a risk that her stitches would tear? That she'd need another surgery? More complications? Fever? Infection?
A risk that she could still die?
There was a strong burning behind his eyes that caused him to blink strongly. It was followed by a thick lump choking up his throat. He felt his own strength, which had been wavering for too many hours, start to disappear as he leaned sideways against the doorframe for support. As he did, he bowed his head down so that he couldn't see the tragic scene before him anymore and he covered his eyes with his hands. He tried to control his breathing as it suddenly seemed to escape him and overwhelm him, determined not to lose control as he already had done twice, but it hwas hard. The day had been in so long and painful that this was just the twist of the knife in his gut on top of it all. Sleep deprivation automatically made him feel worse and his willingness to fight the weakness failed him.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed when a firm hand came down on his shoulder, an odd gentleness in its weight. He didn't have to turn to know that it was Coulson, but he did anyway. "Look what I did to her," he choked out.
"You didn't do this, Barton," Coulson told him.
"It was my fault that she was in the building when it came down," he mumbled. "Look at her!" he cried out, much louder, flinging his arm behind him. "She looks like she's dead!"
Coulson didn't look at her. Not again. He'd already looked over Clint's shoulder and seen the once strong warrior lying there, lifeless if not for the steady beeping to remind them otherwise. Though the Avengers Initiative widened his responsibilites, he still felt like a handler to the two agents and in a moment such as this he wouldn't hesitate to fill the roll. "Get your head on straight," Coulson instructed, using the hand on Clint's shoulder to physically turn him towards the room again. "You were there, at your partners side. You retrieved her from the building, attended her injuries as best you could at the scene and ensured she was transported to further medical treatment."
Clint sighed and closed his eyes, still refusing to look.
Coulson continued. "You were there," he repeated. "She's going to live because you were there."
Clint inhaled sharply, a sound that he tried to disguise. Obediently, he nodded and took a few shaky steps into the room, seeming to stumble a little like a lost child looking for shelder. It was almost as if he wanted to stay away so that he couldn't see the damage that had been caused to her, but he knew that the right place to be was at her side. Coulson waited in the doorway in case Clint had a lapse of judgement and tried to get back through the door.
Slowly, Clint approached her beside. He half expected her to open her eyes, her beautiful eyes, and momentarily be glad to see him there before she started berating him for taking her to the medics because she could have handled this herself. He sat down on a stool that had been bought in just for him and took her limp hand in his, careful not to disturb and of the tubes and wires. The hand felt warm in his own, which comforted him more than he could describe. Warm like life. But there was something missing. He moved a hand to his pocket and startled with a jumping breath when he found it to be empty.
Coulson was in the room now, extending a hand to him which had a thin chain hanging from it. The ring in the centre of the chain weighed it down so it swung slightly in his grasp. Clint took it with shaking hands, sliding the ring off the chain and holding it in his hand. He let out a shuddering breath and slid it back onto her finger. She wore it around her neck when they were in the field, just like he did, but he'd put his own ring back on hours ago. The moment they took her unconscious body away to surgery, he'd put his ring on to feel a little closer to her, sadly realising that moments later the medics would cut her out of her field suit and take the chain around from her neck and give it to him to hold.
Now, when he held her hand, he felt a familiar knocking of their rings sliding against each other, and he squeezed her hand lightly. It wasn't too tight, but enough to let her know that he was there if she could feel him.
"Did they say how long she'll sleep for?" Clint asked, knowing Coulson still stood to his side.
"A couple of days, at least," Coulson told him. "Personally, I say she'll be awake by tomorrow afternoon," he shrugged a little. "You know how she likes the challenge of a deadline."
Clint sighed and bought her hand to his forehead, resting against her. "Married two months and I nearly lose her…"
"She's alive," Coulson said simply. "That's all that matters now."
Coulson left, closing the door behind him and leaving him completely alone with her still form. He tried to convince himself that it wasn't all that different from the time three weeks ago when she'd fallen asleep in the rec room in his lap and he'd watched her for an hour before waking her to go to bed. It wasn't the same though, because of where they were, because of the beeping, because of the wires, because her lips were covered by a mask that was keeping her breathing.
He felt himself letting out out a breath, unsure that he was even holding one to begin, but as he released it he felt a constriction in his chest disappearing. Now that he was beside her and could see the gentle rise and fall of her chest he realised that they were slightly out of sync, proving that the her breathing wasn't synthetic and was of his own accord.
Sighing heavily again and allowing the weakness to drown him, he went to lay his head down beside her, but the cot she lay on was so narrow that his head was cushioned on her stomach. Having her body for a pillow bought back memories of only last night when they had curled against each other and joked about how everything would go well during the next days ship out mission and debated whether they should celebrate their inevitable victory by having rough glad-to-be-alive sex or whether it would be the slow and sensual you're-my-husband/wife-and-i'll-always-have-your-back lovemaking. They never imagined that it would neither.
"Come back, Tasha," he whispered. "Love you, so you gotta wake up."
She didn't, not yet. But he was there. And she was alive.
It wasn't the way that he imagined they'd be lying together tonight, but they were together and alive. And for now, that was enough.